Education and Philanthropic Impact

The Nord Family Foundation is a small family foundation with assets approximating $100 million dollars.  Annual distributions for education-related fields are in the vicinity of $2 million.

In recent years, The Nord Family Foundation investments in education include private and faith-based schools. Typically these schools are located in economically depressed neighborhoods and draw students from families that face a variety of hardship and challenges. Among these schools are: Arrupe Prep, in Denver, Colorado; Epiphany Prep in Dorchester, MA; Nativity Prep in Boston, MA; the Denver Street School in Denver and the Cleveland’s Urban Community School. Funding private and faith-based schools vs. support for programs in public schools are interesting challenges for staff and trustees. For many foundations, the choice is to support one or the other. When one considers where the highest impact can be made, investments in public schools are harder to discern and are often hidden in the complexities of public school bureaucracies. That is not to say we do not have success in that area. Foundation support for The Center for Applied Special Technology CAST and its Universal Design for Learning has had high impact on delivery of instruction and learning in public schools. The foundation support for private schools (typically in a range between $10,000 – $50,000) appears to have very high impact on the young people served by them. Each school reports the same results – children from inner city families are transformed when they become part of the school’s community. A recent article in The Boston Globe described the Epiphany School, “The small school takes in children whose worlds can sometimes be filled with chaos, neglect, and violence – and devoid of role models or even warm meals and housing. Rather than ignore those forces or battle them one by one, the school has tried to create a competing and almost all-encompassing universe where students can not only learn, but grow up.”

Each of these schools seems to have a key to changing children’s lives: a caring environment, parental and family involvement in the education of the child, holding children to high standards and instilling confidence they can succeed in life. This philosophy strikes at the heart of the mission of The Nord Family Foundation. Schools such as these count on the generosity of foundations like this one, to continue transforming the lives of families in our nation’s inner cities.

2 thoughts on “Education and Philanthropic Impact

  1. Barbara Ganley


    It’s great to see you blogging! Welcome! After reading your opening post (and Gardner Campbell’s) on Gawande’s book Better, I ran right out to buy it and now am immersed in it–very interesting. Thanks. You might find Lanny Arvan’s recent post worthwhile reading: But my comment is really to this post:

    My sister-in-law works for CAST, in the schools, exploring ways that UDL can realistically enhance the educational experience for all kinds of students. She has spent time in Ohio working with schools, and this fall she will be in challenging inner-city Boston public schools, working with the teachers who are so often over-burdened by the demands of their jobs that they can’t even begin to think of innovations. Having her there, working side by side with teachers, mentoring them and providing support and guidance must mean the world.

    The smaller schools you mention and champion have much better chances at making a difference for all of the reasons you list in your final paragraph, but until we shift our educational system in a big way, we must reach out to the public schools, even and perhaps especially in the face of potential failure, and so I am glad to hear that you support both!


  2. John

    Thanks for your comment Barbara. I am trying to make a point that for foundation’s the size of Nord it is sometimes easier to “see” an impact with schools I mentioned than with public schools. I agree completely that we need to work with all stakeholders to improve the quality of public schools. In fact, the Nord family foundation supports many programs in public schools. There was a recent article in the New York Times entitled How Many Billionairs Will it Take to Change a School System
    It describes how hard it is for private money to have visible impact on a public school system. By no means would I suggest giving up on public schools. On the contrary, I think philanthropy has an obligation to evaluate what programs have worked well, and develop policies that will enable districts to bring them to scale quickly.

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